EDITORIAL: We cannot run away from “Mobile Journalism”

EDITORIAL: We cannot run away from “Mobile Journalism”
In modern journalism, you don’t need a camera to take the photo. Advancement of technology means that journalist can simply use their phone to take the photos and short videos.

The craft of journalism has come a long way. While the principles that dictate how members of the ‘Fourth Estate’ have remained the same, technological advancement and the advent of the internet have come in as ‘disruptors’. Today, what a world leader says in China is relayed immediately across various channels. Mainstream media and individual social media account holders have all that it takes to tell a story to the world – basically, a smartphone connected to the internet is what you need to connect with the other person on the other side of the world.

Journalism schools and colleges across the world are now offering units or modules in ‘Mobile Journalism,’ where the trainees are taken through how to compile a report from the location using, smartphones.

It is surprising therefore that in South Sudan some policymakers have reservations about journalists using their mobile phones, particularly in ‘high-profile political functions. While a journalist’s choice to use their smartphone to collect news could be interpreted to mean ‘lack of seriousness on the part of the journalist, it is important to know that a smartphone saves the reporter time in transferring footage from a camera to a laptop for onward processing of the news of the day.

Even in its oldest form – print – journalism is no longer what it was say 15 years ago.

Years back, for instance, for a story to appear live on TV, an entire news crew would have to be dispatched. Cameraman, producer, reporter, audio engineer and technician. The team would travel in a huge van with all the equipment and set up a day or two before the function.

Fast-forward to 2022, technology has made a significant part of this crew redundant. With a portable uplink gadget with the most popular brand being Live-U, you just need one cameraman and the event is LIVE from the location.

Further, with the advent of smartphones, you can download the Live-U app, have it configured with your newsroom gallery and just like that you are live on TV!

TV stations in Kenya, for example, have particularly invested in this technology.

Technological advancements in mobile phones changed the habits of news consumption globally. With a smartphone and internet, one does not have to go back to the house in the evening and find out what is happening around them from their television set.

Since the ‘traditional’ news consumers had migrated to the mobile phone, it was now upon media practitioners to align with this wind of change – thus the birth of mobile journalism.

With instant updates and live feeds, this digital form of storytelling has caught the world by storm. While portable electronic devices have made this art form possible, the work done by newsrooms, cell phone carriers, and social media platforms alike has supported its continued growth.

A Pew Research Study revealed that as of 2017, only five African countries had over 30 per cent of their adults owning a smartphone. According to the research, South Africa was leading at 51 per cent.

Five years later, these percentages must have grown significantly in Africa and thereby contributing to the ‘disruption’ of traditional ways of news dissemination.

More than half of U.S. adults get their news from social media either often or sometimes. Facebook is the dominant source of social media news, followed by YouTube, and then Twitter. These platforms have become some of the largest funders of journalistic programs and media partnerships.

Social media’s methods of instantaneous communication have brought new expectations to the field of journalism. News today must be live if it is to really evoke the curiosity of consumers. With this, journalists are now expected to be jacks of all trades, capable of writing, shooting, and managing social media accounts. 

A culture of instant gratification has taught us that there is no need to wait to receive information. The reality of mobile journalism is that it supplies just that. Traditional reporting, on the other hand, is more limited in its scope as it relies on the few rather than the many. Traditional journalists create discrete and finished products for mass media, while mobile journalists disseminate pieces of the story as they are revealed.

As the fastest channel for breaking news, mobile journalism has a real advantage over traditional media outlets. This new form of storytelling caters directly to people’s desire to receive real-time information. This can pose a threat to traditional journalists who typically take more time to fully develop a story before releasing it to the public. If these journalists don’t publish a story before it hits social media, they’ve lost any potential angle they would have been able to use.

Through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, people can easily stay up-to-date with breaking events by means of live media coverage. These platforms offer stories, streaming, and live chats, among other features. While live media may not be new, it is certainly increasing. According to a survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, 47% of consumers globally have increased how often they engage with live-streaming since last year.

Mobile journalism is one of globalization’s biggest contributors. Its use of mass media plays a crucial role in informing the public of events happening outside of their immediate surroundings. This interconnectivity provides a link between countries and regions, allowing for the easy exchange of ideas and cultures. Information is now more accessible and worldly than ever before.

Mobile journalism, in turn, has given rise to citizen journalism: the collection and dissemination of information by the general public. Anybody with a smartphone or other internet-connected device may become a citizen journalist. The ability of anybody to be a citizen journalist, trained or untrained in the field, has brought about questions regarding the value of an eyewitness account film shot on a mobile phone and posted on the internet, versus a traditional broadcast on a television network.

There are many ways by which mobile journalism has benefited society. An obvious benefit of mobile journalism is the way that mobile devices and social media allow for interaction and communication with the audience. Now more than ever, the public can play an active role in the creation of news stories. Through citizen journalism, people can get involved by sharing their side of the story through text, pictures, and video footage. Eyewitnesses and first-hand accounts bring light to worldwide issues in a way that would have been previously impossible. 

The Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, for instance, showcased the Boston Police Department’s use of social media in covering the events as they transpired. Tweets from the department’s Twitter account provided people with an assemblage of information and updates at the tip of their fingers.

Despite all the benefits of mobile journalism, questions of privacy, ethics, and truthfulness remain potential drawbacks of its evolution. Social media can easily become flooded with incredible or misleading information. Anybody today may film or record audio on a smartphone — but the ability for anybody to post, tweet, or share information creates a lack of control over what is created and disseminated. The accessibility of mobile journalism also means that sensitive or violent content may be released. 

Moreover, the quick dissemination of information can be dangerous for people living in countries where free speech is restricted or controlled. Hong Kong protestors must fight to stay anonymous as the Chinese government deems every protest against Chinese rule to be an illegal assembly. So much as being caught on camera could result in extrajudicial punishment. Those caught so far have been met with arrest, violence, and online harassment.